In the United States, and a little here in Australia, the school you graduated from (particularly University or College) is refered to as your Alma Mater. But not everyone undertakes learning from formal institutions on their path to a fulfilling career. And, institutional learning is not the only facet of growing a career or area of interest. I feel a commonality though, in the cycle of growth that occurs and wonder – What is your Community Alma Mater?
I realised when presenting at a community forum recently, that I have a community Alma Mater. In fact, now that I have been thinking about it more, I have many. Beyond institutional learning, we are thrust into the real world, where we have work communities, social communities, industry communities, academic communities (probably more, comment if you have some to add).
In these communities we continue to learn. When I think of communities in this context I am thinking of subject matter or interest groups, but I think it could apply to workplaces, and certainly applies to clubs or sport teams.
Usually we start as a new member (Freshman, Rookie, Intern, Newbie) and over time with the growth of knowledge will move through imaginary ranks (Sophomore, Dan, Associate). At some formal or informal point reach a level of accomplished skill or knowledge, informally we may notice that we are able to support newer community members, formally we may finish or begin to teach (Become a senior, Graduate, become a Sensei, become a Partner, shift focus to a new community). Reaching this point does not end our time with the community as such, but it changes our relationship with it. And this is where I suggest it becomes your Alma Mater.
Bring on the dictionary definition. I don’t like to roll out this trope too much, but in this case it provides a deeper level of meaning to punctuate my thoughts:
Almamater (Latin: almamater, lit. ‘nourishing mother’; pl. [rarely used] almae matres) is an allegorical Latin phrase for a university, school, or college that one formerly attended. In US usage, it can also mean the school from which one graduated.
I love when a definition leads to a more meaningful understanding of a word. In this case, the nourishing mother of the Alma Mater is reminiscent of the received from community learning.
My Alma Mater is the Intranet Leadership Forum, now called the Step Two Forum. I first joined in 2011 as a paid member when I started my second intranet role. In the beginning I was wide-eyed and soaking up knowledge from the Step Two Team and the other members who share their stories and knowledge under Chatham House Rules. Note: The Step Two Forum is a paid forum. While I still work with Step Two as a client of theirs I do not receive any payment, perks or kick-backs for this post.
In my time as a member (5-6 years) I learned new skills, met wonderful industry peers and made friends. I began to present and share and workshop. Returning there recently to present at a guest was my Alma Mater lightbulb moment. I was back with a familiar group, sharing my learning as an experienced alumnus, but also learning from the people in the room with a range of experiences.
So, back to the question. What’s your Community Alma Mater?
What is the place (or what are the places) where you have received community growth and learning. You may look back fondly and recall the days when you were new, and now enjoy helping to provide nourishment to people who are just starting their journey.